TAMPA — One week after her ex-husband resigned as senior pastor of Without Walls International Church, Paula White plans to take the pulpit Sunday as the church's new leader, the Whites said in separate interviews late Friday.
White, who held her first staff meeting Friday and spent time looking for a place to live, said she will officially take the reins when she preaches at its two morning worship services. The services will also honor Bishop Randy White, who founded the church with her 18 years ago.
"Did I see it coming? … I can say that Without Walls has never been out of my heart or my being, and I've never been out of theirs," she said. "But I have stopped trying to figure out sovereignty and destiny."
Word of Paula White's new post seeped out Sunday when Randy White preached his last sermon as senior pastor at the church and resigned. White, 51, said he was stepping aside because of health concerns. He declined to elaborate on his condition, although he said he had been ill and in and out of the hospital for much of the last seven months.
"I have some serious health issues right now," White said in an interview Friday. "I've had six different doctors say that I had to take the stress, the pressure out of my life. So I've resigned, and Paula's taking over."
Although she had made periodic visits, Paula White, 43, has been away from full-time pastoring at Without Walls for more than two years. She left Tampa following a 2007 divorce from her husband. Since then, she said, she has ministered mostly in New York, Texas and abroad.
About two months ago, White said, she received a call from her ex-husband. He told her about his health situation and asked her to consider returning to lead the congregation, once one of the fastest-growing churches in the nation. White said she prayed, fasted and sought counsel from religious leaders including Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Texas pastor she calls her "spiritual father."
"This is not a casual decision," she said. "This has been something that has been well thought through and prayed (about) and saturated. I am looking forward to leading people to the best of my ability."
Once a powerhouse couple in charismatic Christian circles, the Whites started the ministry that would become Without Walls in a South Tampa storefront. Its present sanctuary seats 4,000, Randy White said. The ministry was hit hard in recent years by the couple's divorce, the death of White's daughter from brain cancer and the hint of scandals, including a federal inquiry into the church's finances by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Last year, Randy White said the church was rebounding, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.
White said that despite his mixed emotions about resigning, he believes his ex-wife is the perfect fit for the congregation.
"I can hold my head high," he said. "For 18 years, I served the people and served this community and we weathered a lot of storms through that process. I'm very pleased with how God used me."
Meanwhile, Paula White says she is in the discovery and development stage as she prepares to again lead the church.
She plans to live in Tampa and will continue to base her television efforts, Paula White Ministries, out of the city. A highly sought-after evangelist, White says she will curtail her travel and focus on the local church.
"Many people watch the media ministry, and they'll have a place where they can say Pastor Paula is planted," she said. "It really is my joy and privilege to serve in this capacity."
Sherri Day can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2440.